“This hills are alive with the sound of music….”
Have you ever lived in the mountains? Every morning you walk out and look around, and it’s just as the psalmist said: “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where is my help to come?” Something in the grandeur of the mountains reminds us of the solidity and dependability of God.
And yet sometimes we just don’t feel it. We may go through all the motions and do all the right things, but still not feel God in our lives. That seemed to be the case with Nicodemus, a strong Jewish man, a leader, and yet he was missing something huge…or else he wouldn’t have taken the risk to come talk to Jesus late that night long ago. Something was missing for Nicodemus.
And of course, we are Nicodemus in this story! You and I have times when things aren’t working, our faith may seem dry, our hope exhausted, we wonder if it’s all worth it. That’s when we need to come again to Jesus, by day or by night, in prayer or in worship or on a mountain. “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” God’s creation, God’s handiwork, tells us of God’s power and care. It is blessed assurance that God is still with us.
Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be born again. What’s that about? Many of us may have a jaded view of being “born again,” from other Christians who push and prod about what day and hour we gave our hearts to Jesus, or got saved, or declared Jesus our personal Lord and savior.
I’m sure that is NOT what Jesus was talking about! This rebirth, this renewal, was much more mystical than that – it’s about God’s Spirit blowing through us like a refreshing breeze, blowing away all the dust and grime that clouds our vision and clogs us up, bringing in the fresh scent of pine and mountain wildflowers.
And this renewal doesn’t just happen one day in your life, and then it’s done. It’s an ongoing thing, a journey, a long trek over mountain trails – some parts hard climbing, other times easy going across a hidden meadow, and occasionally, now and then, arriving at a place of such indescribable beauty that it takes our breath away. That’s what happened to Abraham: God called him to leave what was familiar, and voyage into the unknown…another kind of rebirth.
When Maria, in The Sound of Music (who will always be Julie Andrews in my mind!), went into the mountains, she thought her God-given path in life was the convent, a life of service to God. Little did she know that she would be completely reborn when she met all those bratty little von Trapp children! Sometimes the obvious path isn’t the right path. God is a God of surprises. Be prepared to alter course!
The same holds true for Christian communities, too. St. Dunstan’s as a congregation is being born anew. Our journey continues, sometimes in surprising ways.
Your new Vestry met in retreat last week, 4 hours with a facilitator, and 5 more on our own, with our new Senior Warden Julie Anderson capably leading us. What did we come up with?
We looked at who we are, and we like it!, and we decided to focus on what’s important to us:
- We are a real voice in Bethesda for justice and welcoming the “stranger” as in our refugee and asylum-seekers ministry
- The beauty and vitality of our Anglican worship is important to us
- We want to keep welcoming children and youth here
We know we want to be welcoming and inclusive of all people, and we want to practice love: to be kind, with humility. We are a modest church; we can’t be all things to all people. We’re not going to agonize over growth in numbers anymore. We’ll focus on God’s call to us, just as we are.
Our core values end up aligning very well with the prophet Micah’s well-known description of faithful life with God:
We’re going to come to you, the congregation, with our plans and proposals, and ask your input, your thoughts, your suggestions. Because of course St. Dunstan’s is all of us, from the youngest baby to the eldest senior.
Scholars now tell us that “born again” is not the best translation in this passage. A better translation is “born from above.” I’ve thought about what that means, and I believe it means getting our DNA from God, not just from human parents. As individuals, we are not just looking at life from a human perspective, looking out for ourselves. We now look at the world from God’s perspective, and we look out for God’s world, God’s beloved people and creatures – all of them.
So, we hope that St. Dunstan’s can offer you support and guidance and inspiration and joy as you walk your walk with God. And we ask your support and help and input as we chart our course as a parish, ever knowing that God’s Spirit is our true guide…our help is in the name of the Lord. As our lovely sequence hymn puts it: